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Exhibit examines capitalism gone wild

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DAAP Galleries welcomed the traveling multi-media exhibition, “It’s The Political Economy, Stupid,” Monday at The Dorothy W. and C. Lawson Reed, Jr. Gallery in hopes of exposing students to the political economy through conceptual art.

Taking its name from psychoanalytic philosopher and Marxist scholar Slavoj Žižek’s personal spin on the blunt phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” the exhibition reflects on the history of global capitalism gone awry. 

Originally opening at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York (ACFNY) in 2012, the show saw immense success and garnered rave reviews. It toured through Europe and parts of the U.S.

Co-curated by New York-based artist, activist and City University of New York professor, Gregory Sholette and Vienna-based artist and filmmaker Oliver Ressler, the artwork included collective reactions to the 2008 global financial crisis. It also provides commentary on the roots of economic and political corruption worldwide. 

Sholette and Ressler co-authored a book, “It’s the Political Economy, Stupid: The Global Financial Crisis in Art and Theory,” to connect the aesthetics presented in the works to analysis backed by theoretical essays and documentation about the exhibition.  

The book, designed by British activist-artist Noel Douglas, is yet another work of art in itself. Open it and you will find immediately that the table of contents is designed as a stock market chart.

Sholette has moved from printing and distributing underground newspapers containing protest art and music reviews with his junior high friends (to the dismay of his school principal) during the Vietnam War, to becoming a full-fledged activist and artist. 

Although Sholette said he does not believe all art has to be concerned with broader world issues, he stresses the importance of physical artwork with political messages in the digital age.

When growing up, he and his friends could barely find means to print an underground newspaper. Today — even though social media reaches millions of people — it can still be hard to get people’s attention in the sea of other things online, Sholette said. 

“Ironic, no? That is why ‘art’ might, on certain occasions, be more effective at communicating, because it can do what is unexpected in a world filled with routine marvels,” Sholette said. 

One of the standout works in the exhibition, Dread Scott’s “Money to Burn,” is a perfect example of an unexpected spectacle filled with commentary.

In this performance piece, Scott stands on Wall Street with U.S. currency pinned to his torso, lighting bills on fire one by one and encourages ordinary on-lookers to join him.

The video, filmed in 2010, poignantly encapsulates — as police approach Scott — the message that monetary wealth is above the value of an individual citizen in our government system. 

In the midst of the 2016 presidential campaigns, the exhibition is a stark reminder to viewers to be weary of corruption brought by far reaching power. 

In reflection of the current campaigns, Sholette said Bernie Sanders, who openly attacks the one percent and bashes income equality, is in his mind, the best candidate running. However, he emphasized the importance of organizing supporters of his philosophies. 

“No individual, no matter how right in her or his views, will prevail just because they speak truth to power,” Sholette said. “But collectively, in solidarity with others, everything is possible. So, more than just embracing ‘Bernie’ for president, we need to become knowledgeable about such things as capitalism, white privilege, racism, sexism, militarism, climate change, corporate power and the roots of inequality if we hope to bring about real lasting change.” 

The exhibition’s serious pieces are balanced with works that aim to supersede the strife brought upon by the downfall of the economy and its consequences. These pieces present humor and fantasy in the face of financial and political stress. 

“In general I think all art, be it negative or positive, invites us to have the courage to speak up and to resist the normal state of things in which we are supposed to passively accept our fate either as citizens, workers, soldiers, or students,” Sholette said. “Art, especially the type of socially engaged art that is in our show, cries out Basta. Enough.”

Sholette continues, “Well — sure — angry art may never be enough, but it is a starting point!” 

Reed Galleries will host the opening reception for “It’s the Political Economy, Stupid” Thursday. The exhibition runs through April 10.